May 14, 2021 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Jubilee Hernandez

The four years of the Class of 2021 has been a great period for movies, a few of which (recency bias aside) are among my favorites ever. Most of them I saw at the movie theater, and spending an evening at the movie theater is a powerful, comfortable experience. Getting paid to do just that as The Catalyst film critic made each trip to the movies all the better, so to send me off, here’s a list of the best movies that came out while I was a student at Colorado College, from 2017 to 2021.

Ten movies, four years, let’s go.

10. “Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train” (2020), dir. Haruo Sotozaki

Starting the list off at number ten is “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train,” Japan’s highest grossing movie of all time, which recently became available in the U.S. Theaters have just reopened in Albuquerque, so the auditorium I went to was packed, the only available seats being a few in the front row. Long story short, I need to see a chiropractor. The animation and art style are gorgeous, action sequences filling the screen with kickass anime battles. Watch this on the largest screen you can.

9. “Blindspotting” (2018) dir. Carlos López Estrada 

At number nine sits “Blindspotting,” the uber-cool film about gentrification, police brutality, and a world that’s changing just a bit too quickly for parolee Collin (Daveed Diggs) and his friend Miles (Rafael Casal). The editing is fresh and creative, and the movie has a cool soundtrack too, written and performed by the two lead actors. 

8. “Sorry to Bother You” (2018), dir. Boots Riley

My eighth favorite movie of my college years was Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” a thinly veiled anti-capitalist film. Its biggest success was showing firsthand how nasty Armie Hammer is, as he plays a billionaire who turns people into (spoilers) half-horse half-man slaves. It’s a hilarious metaphor for how soulless corporations treat workers like machines with one purpose: to work until you die. We’re more valuable than this, right?

7. “Possessor” (2020), dir. Brandon Cronenberg

At number seven, I’ve chosen Brandon Cronenberg’s (son of David) “Possessor,” and what more can I say?  Like “Sorry to Bother You,” it’s another anti-capitalist flick with gnarly body horror and another entry in the “Sean Bean dying” canon. It’s a testament for practical effects — an endangered species in today’s glossy world of CGI — making it one of 2020’s best. 

6. “Another Round” (2020), dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Number six is “Another Round,” a cool movie about some cool dudes having a good time. Vinterberg won Best International feature at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, simply because it was the best movie made last year, not just the best international feature. Its core message is this: Enjoy life, or at least try your best.

5. “Annihilation” (2018), dir. Alex Garland

Garland’s “Annihilation” is my fifth pick, a movie I saw late in the morning one Sunday at the I-25 Tinseltown. This sci-fi movie is both perplexing and stomach-churning, its horrors complemented by prismatic, oil-slick coloration. Combined with a solid Natalie Portman performance, Garland’s film is easily my favorite sci-fi movie to release between 2017 and 2021.

4. “Uncut Gems” (2019), dir. Josh & Benny Safdie

My number four is the Safdie Bros’ “Uncut Gems,” a stressful movie about gambling addict Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), who bets big on a big hunk of black opal. Kevin Garnett shows up to his jewelry store one day, convinces Howie to lend him the stone, and doesn’t bring it back. Ratner’s life unravels, and chaos ensues; perhaps the most affecting (for better or for worse) film of recent memory.

3. “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood” (2019), dir. Quentin Tarantino

In a film bro moment of weakness, I’ve placed “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood” at number three, Tarantino’s most refined and restrained film (which is saying something considering the violent final scene). The movie is an epic love story about how cool movies are, and who better to lead the story than Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt? Say what you will about Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time” is cool.

2. “Shoplifters” (2018), dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Sitting at number two is “Shoplifters,” a beautiful movie that will restore your faith in humanity while it simultaneously breaks your heart. The cinematography features a pastel-y color palette when cheerful, and a dark, concise style when the family’s luck takes a turn. I watched it on the (small) big screen of auditorium three at Three Peaks Theater. I’ve seen “The Favourite” (2018) and “The Phantom Thread” (2018) on this screen, and the downtown Colorado Springs theater will always hold a special place in my heart, as it’s always a refuge from pesky bouts of college depression. 

1. “First Reformed” (2017), dir. Paul Schrader 

Finally, “First Reformed” is my favorite movie of the 2010s, a brutal Ethan Hawke-starring film that brilliantly conveys the existential anxiety brought on by climate change. While mixing whisky and Pepto Bismol, Father Toller (Hawke) grapples with his personal demons, eaten up by the evils of his local mega church (led by Cedric the Entertainer). Schrader rips into these evils, portraying how modern Christianity has mutated into yet another capitalist project. I geeked out and gave A24 $40 for a “First Reformed Church” dad hat – it was worth every penny.  

I’d like to shout-out the wonderful illustrators who brought color to my often-bleak reviews, and my editors who dragged me through proper AP style and atrocious grammar that even my most try-hard vocabulary couldn’t hide. Thank you to everyone who read my reviews each week: I hope my musings left an impact. Finally, make sure to check out Annie Knight’s reviews next year! She’s donning the film critic hat and will not disappoint. Thanks for reading! 

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